Universalist Church of Hollywood 1947-1959

David S.Lawyer mailto:davylawyer1@gmail.com

December 2002 (original November 2002)

Other Articles about Universalism on the Pacific Coast

1. Overview

2. The Beginning

3. The Church

4. The Ending

5. Notes


1. Overview

This church's is AKA "Hollywood Universalist Chruch". Its history is short lived, from 1947 to 1959. It was located for most of its life at 7367 Hollywood Blvd, several blocks west of the famous Chinese Theater. The Rev. Sheldon Shepard was involved in its founding and became its minister after he departed his short ministry at the People's Church of the San Fernando Valley. He once held a much longer ministry at the First Universalist Church of Los Angeles. After he resigned from Hollywood in 1956, Leland P. Stewart was the minister until the demise in 1959.

2. The Beginning

It was originally named the Wilshire Universalist Church, presumably located on (or near) Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. It incorporated in 1951 and in 1952 became "Hollywood Chapel Universalist" likely after moving to Hollywood. The next year the name was changed to "Universalist Church of Hollywood".

3. The Church

The church building was an ex-mansion and a full-page picture of it is near the end of vol. 2 in: The Larger Hope by Russell E. Miller, UUA 1985 (but no mention is made of it in the text of that book). The church was relatively small with a sanctuary that could seat about 50 with an attendance of about 25 on Sundays. Under Shepard, films were sometimes shown Sunday evenings at 8 pm. in addition to the services at 11 am.

4. The Ending

When the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists was being planned in the late 1950's, the minister, Leland P. Stewart, opposed it. He felt that the spiritual and mystical values present in the Universalist Church would not be continued after the merger. So the church opposed the merger. Now, while the Universalist denomination could not force it to merge, it turned out that the denomination held title to the property and could refuse to let the church continue meeting there. The result was that the Universalist Church took over the property and sold it in 1959.

The money from the sale was used in part to purchase deBenneville Pines (UU mountain camp) in the San Bernardino Mountains. While Stewart was actually the final minister, Shepard is shown as the final minister in the deBenneville history. See History of deBenneville Pines. Throop Memorial Church in Pasadena had loaned Hollywood money and may have gotten it back after Hollywood dissolved.

Before it closed, the First Universalist Church of Los Angeles had also moved to Hollywood on Franklin Ave and dissolved at about the same time (1959). There seems to have been little contact between these two churches located located less than a mile apart in Hollywood. One might have expected that members of Stewart's Hollywood church would have switched to the Los Angeles ex-Unitarian church on 8th St. after the merger with the Unitarians. But Stewart doesn't think this happened since the Los Angeles Unitarian Church was very political (and leftist) and not very spiritual and mystical.

After the Universalist church folded, there was a "Universal Center" established at 1749 N. La Brea with L. P. Stewart (the ex-minister of the Hollywood Universalist) as the minister. A few of the members of the defunct church also joined this "Universal Center" which was listed in the Los Angeles Times under "Universalist" Churches. The Universal Center was the international headquarters of a new movement headed by L. P. Stewart. He now (2002) heads the "Unity and Diversity World Council". See Unity-and-Diversity

5. Notes

5.1 Archives

There are some archival materials about this church at the Harvard Divinity School. The author utilized some of the notes breifly describing this material at UNIVERSALISTCHURCH OF HOLLYWOOD. RECORDS, 1947-1959.

5.2 Personal Recollections

Leland P. Stewart verbally supplied some information.